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Carry On Cleo (1964)



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"Infamy! Infamy! They've all got it in for me!"

Tenth in the Carry On series, Carry On Cleo is also one of the best. The historical setting, gleeful anachronisms, and convoluted farce all became part of the example that the best remembered Carry Ons would emulate. It's also another movie parody in the series, this time of Joseph L. Mankiewicz's expensive epic Cleopatra. For that film, lavish sets were build in London and subsequently abandoned. Carry On producer Peter Rogers secured permission to film on them, and so this little comedy with its tiny budget looks absolutely gorgeous with its ornate sets and exotic costumes. Rogers continued to luck into deals like this through the middle of the Carry On series. Although Cleo remains the best looking of the films, others also look a lot better than the budgets would normally allow.

The fine look of the film is fortunately done justice by the script, which was Talbot Rothwell's third and the one where he perfected the tone for the series. Make no mistake, this is not highbrow comedy, any more than any of the other Carry On films are. But it is boundlessly energetic and shamelessly silly in a way that's hard not to like. Amidst the more outrageous humor are subtler wordplay gags (my favorite involving Sidney James and a snake). Sometimes they come so fast, you're liable to miss some the first time through. Appropriately, it is blissfully unconcerned with historical accuracy: while the bulk of the story concerns intrigue with Mark Antony (Sidney James), Julius Caesar (Kenneth Williams), and Cleopatra (series guest star Amanda Barrie), it also features stone age cavemen doing a terrible job inventing wheels and windows.

The cast is in top form without exception, which is nice, as even the best of the Carry On regulars were off their game now and then. Kenneth Williams, in particular, is noteworthy here. After stumbling around in search of a comic persona in the first six films, coming close in Carry On Jack, and overplaying it in Carry On Spying, he finally nails it here. He'd stick with it in the later films and become the anchor of the series after other regulars like Sidney James and Kenneth Connor had lost their way.

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